Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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I Was a Teenage Folk Hero's Victim

| Fri Oct. 8, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

For the first summer in half a decade, Kara Webber didn't have to worry about Colton Harris-Moore crashing a stolen car into the propane tank behind the convenience store she works at. Or emptying out the ATM after-hours with a debit card he'd filched from a neighbor. Or breaking into her home for a quick bite to eat—while she was in the living room. And that, on balance, is a good thing: "He's locked up; we're happy," she says.

Kara explains to me how Colton used to break into her store late at night, then she takes a deep breath: "I mean, kid's an idiot."

Well, sort of. By now you've probably heard about the escapades of Colton, aka "The Barefoot Burglar," aka "the kid who stole all those planes." Raised by his mother in a trailer on Camano, a wooded island about an hour north of Seattle, he graduated from petty theft, to swiping cars, to, eventually and most dramatically, stealing and crash-landing private airplanes. Note the plural. Colton did this five times, at least, the last of which brought him to the Bahamas this summer, and from there, to a federal holding facility outside Seattle.

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The Problem With Idaho

| Tue Oct. 5, 2010 10:29 PM EDT

Moscow, Idaho—Moscow has been called "the Berkeley of Idaho," which is kind of a loaded statement, I guess. Mostly, I think, this refers to the fact that there's a university, and cool bars, and coffee shops (try Bucer's), an arts scene, and even a few honest-to-goodness liberals. That, and the communist thing.

It's a nice little town in the heart of the Palouse, a 10,000 square-mile stretch of rolling hills of golden wheat in southeastern Washington and northwest Idaho. The hills of the Palouse—sprawling dunes of super-rich glacial silt—are steep enough in spots that a combine capable of climbing them wasn't invented until the mid-20th century, and they're sufficiently sculpted so that if you can observe them from an elevation, and at the right time of year (I didn't), it gives the illusion of a technicolor Sahara. Coming from the west, the Palouse is the first real patch of farmland you'll have seen for hundreds of miles and the most stunning in at least five hundred; the wheat fields forms elaborate, symmetrical patterns, drawing a depth from the shadows and a scope against the Big Sky sky that makes the monotony of the corn belt wilt by comparison.

Moscow's a beautiful place—it just shouldn't be in Idaho.

A Sense of Where We Are: Home

| Mon Oct. 4, 2010 2:32 PM EDT

View Westward Expansion in a larger map

So just like that, we're back in San Francisco. But stay tuned: I'll be wrapping up the blog this week with some more dispatches from the road, and a few closing thoughts.

Pop Country Prognosis: Not Good

| Mon Oct. 4, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Unrelatedly: The Focus on the Family bookstore in Colorado Springs has all your back-to-school needs (Photo: Tim Murphy).Unrelatedly: The Focus on the Family bookstore in Colorado Springs has all your back-to-school needs (Photo: Tim Murphy).Butte, Montana—Somewhere along the road between Slab City and the Big Sky, at a time and place that will forever remain unknown, I developed a serious urge to buy a truck. It started off, as all such cravings do, as just a bug. A longing, when I'd pass a large piece of machinery waylaid on the side of the road, to hitch it up to my Sable and tow it away; a wistful gaze when a 4x4 passed by with a hound dog bobbing out of the cab and a fractured piece of furniture in the back.

Things escalated from there. Not just any truck would do: I needed a Chevy Silverado with a 403 horsepower engine and five-ton towing capability. Or a Dodge Ram with a 1,500-lb payload capacity and trailer sway control. Or a Ford F-150 with a whopping 15 miles-per-gallon and a built-in tailgating step, just in case; I'm not sure what I'd do with a tailgating step, but I'd hate to someday find out I needed it and didn't have it. I wanted a big ol', beat-up truck with 150,000 miles on it three times over, and mud splattered amid the rust spots like an industrial-strength Pollack.

I can't tell you when the craving began, but I can tell you exactly where it came from—my radio dial.

Tea Party Button Salesman Tells All

| Sun Oct. 3, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Denver, Colorado—Jim Maser, "the pin man," is to-the-point when I ask him why he sells his collection of conservative buttons at tea party rallies: "Capitalism."

Jim's not your typical tea partier. He's quick to point out, for instance, that the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan is just that—"Look, I know it's not a mosque"—and says he wouldn't really have a problem with it at all if it weren't so blatantly pegged to 9/11. Amid a sea of "We the People" and "Don't Tread on Me" banners at the 9/12 rally on the steps of the state capitol, he's wearing a plain white polo shirt and khaki shorts. He is, in other words, all business.

Before the Democratic Convention came to Denver in 2008, Jim just stuck to sports (right there on his card it still says "specializing in sports collector pins"), traveling to All-Star games and the like to hawk his wares. But he started to branch out into politics after Obama came to town. He sets up booths at liberal events too—political rallies, obviously, but also pride parades.

(Photo: Tim Murphy)(Photo: Tim Murphy)"It doesn't matter if it's Democratic money or Republican money, it's all green," he says. Although it doesn't always pay for the same things. "I've done this long enough to know that red, white, and blue stuff sells at events like this and I can't give it away at the other events."

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